The Frames of Leadership

The Social Age rewards agility: the ability to frame and reframe problems, to deploy our communities and experiment, question and react at speed. It’s less about mastery of process, more about communication and collaboration. Social Leaders demonstrate a rounded skill set: a holistic mastery of these skills and a consistent demonstration of these behaviours over time. Reputation is founded upon this consistency.

The Frames of Leadership

We can reduce leadership to be viewed within different frames, but it’s only in the holistic application that we can be effective.

In traditional terms, it’s a mixture of hard and soft skills: sure, there is an element of technology that needs to be mastered, but there is very little process. Social Leadership is more about storytelling, sharing and reciprocating than it is about performance reviews and competency frameworks. It may exist alongside these things, but the authority is garners is consensual, granted through the community.

Agile organisations need frameworks for control that are balanced by capabilities of social leadership. Rely too much on control and you become stagnant, lethargic, unable to be agile.

A large component of Social Leadership is to do what’s right: what’s right for the organisation and what’s right for individuals. To do what’s right even beyond what the regulation of law tells us we must do. It’s about propagating fairness and equality through all our decision making.

We can reduce leadership to individual frames and, indeed, seek to master the skills in each, but in it’s application, it’s something that is lived holistically. It’s the exhibited behaviours of Social Leadership that make the social leader. It’s less about talk, more about action.

The NET Model - two layers

The NET Model of Social Leadership in full, showing the three Dimensions and nine Components

The NET Model outlines nine core components, grouped into three Dimensions. The first, ‘Narrative‘, is about taking a stance, about deciding how you will be understood, what you will be known for. We curate accordingly, shape stories in line with this and share them appropriately. The skills learnt around Narrative enable the Social Leader to act with consistency and reflect on the consequences of their actions.

The second Dimension is about Engagement: it’s about understanding the role and purpose of communities and the many different ways we engage within them. Right in the middle of the model sits Reputation: wrought through the stance we take, the stories we tell and the ways in which we contextualise and share them. Reputation cannot be faked: the authenticity in our stories can only be lived, and authenticity, for both organisations and individuals is a core part of trust and integrity. Authority, founded upon that reputation, is socially granted and moderated.

Finally comes Technology, but not the skills of operating systems, rather the ways that the technology facilitates the conversations, facilitates us to be better. Social Capital, right in the middle of this section, explores notions of humility and equality in Social Leadership: doing what’s right and the responsibilities that come with our social authority.

Responsibility comes with authority: the prize is not the power. The prize is the fairness we create when we exercise it.

We can view leadership in frames, separate components, different competencies, but it’s in it’s exercising that our reputation is forged and it’s in the exercise of power that we do right or wrong.

Understand the frames, but strive to do right.

For organisations, understand the role of technology, the role of process and control, but create the permissions to do right, the spaces to explore and the mechanisms to reward and recognise social authority.

It’s the way to agility.

The Social Leadership Handbook is available in Hardback copy from here.

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The Illusion of Balance

It’s a mistake to think that balance is the end point: it’s not. It’s the familiar yet fleeting landmark we pass through periodically whilst weathering the tides of change. To think we are aiming for balance is to invite disappointment and frustration: to judge ourselves for missing it is inane. Balance is a principle, not the goal.


Balance is not the end state: it’s a space we pass through as we ride the waves

We talk about ‘work/life‘ balance or ‘finding balance‘ as though there were a goal that could be met. We say we are ‘juggling things‘, or balancing work and play, balancing our finances or trying to find time for our hobbies. We would all exercise more if we only had the time and would probably be better people if we didn’t sometimes resort to pragmatism.

The Social Age is a time of constant change: it’s a defining feature of our times. To strive for balance is to miss the point: success is about surfing the waves.

There is no end to the demands on our time: clear the first wave and it will be followed by another, and another. I’ll never clear my inbox: ‘empty‘ is not the state it exists in, the state it strives for.

It’s about authenticity and integrity: finding levels of engagement that keep us true to ourselves. Enough exercise, enough work, enough time with friends, enough time by ourselves.

It’s easy to become the person you never thought you would be: harder to retain the illusory image we strive for. We would all be better people if only we had the time.

Why am i interested in balance? Because so much of the Social Age is about our relationships with others, the communities we inhabit and maintain. And to partake is communities is to give of ourselves. Our time, our energy, our selves. And if we are too far away from the notion of balance, we cannot do this with authenticity, with integrity.

Within Social Leadership, balance is important: it’s part of Social Capital. This is about the ways that we support others whilst maintaining our own authenticity and direction. We can’t view it as being balanced: more about understanding where the waves are coming from and ensuring that nobody is washed away in the storm.

Balance is elusive: we should welcome the respite we feel in the eye of the storm, but enjoy the thrill of the journey as it passes. A life lived in balance would miss the views from the mountain top.

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Healthcare Radicals: Change in the NHS

Introducing momentum is the thing: starting the ball rolling. Inertia is the enemy of change, but overcoming it can be overwhelming. In the Social Age, the ecosystem is in our favour though: amplification and momentum are inherent in socially led approaches. Engage with communities, build reputation and social authority, lead socially and effect co-created change. Simple. Well, almost…

Linking formal and social elements in change

Linking formal and social elements in change

It’s a matter of balance: formal structure and a clear strategic imperative aligned with socially moderated thinking and leadership. The organisation creates the space: the community gives it momentum within a frame.

I’m fascinated by the changes underway in the NHS right now: the Healthcare Radical approach is empowering individuals throughout (and alongside) the formal structure to champion change. The very word ‘radical‘ is emotive and using it in an organisational context, brave. The foundation of the project is to educate widely in the mechanisms and dynamics of change (through a formally recognised online learning programme) and to use ‘pledges‘ to change at a grass roots level. The bravery is in the way it moves responsibility and the shape of that change, to an extent, into the community. Instead of doing change to people, the knowledge about change is permeated through a community of change agents, who are self selecting.

This dynamic is important: instead of using formal hierarchies to drive change, there is a self selecting social structure, running right through the organisation.

Generating change

Change is co-created and co-owned. We need shared purpose and values to be effective.

I think there is great potential for Social Leadership driven approaches to change, co-created and co-owned throughout the organisation. Supporting individuals in building reputation and hence social authority, letting them use that authority to drive local change that builds to a shared story of change throughout.

Ideally, it’s both formal and social elements operating in harmony. Motivation for change may be partly political, economic or strategic, but there are equally important community drivers: people just look around and see that things can be different. Under the Healthcare Radical approach, engagement at this stage is with nodes, with people who amplify the messages and drive consensus around change.

Only at this stage does change really occur: the reality of change on the ground, which is then shared in personal and co-created group narratives.

There is a lot we can learn from this approach to apply more widely: the very fact that most of the knowledge i have around this is socially derived, not learnt through formal papers and websites. People are proud of the change they have affected, and that pride is matched by the social reputation and authority that they are rewarded with.

Contrast this with the types of change programmes i often find in financial institutions or manufacturing, which still tend to be largely secretive and imposed affairs with roadmaps and corporate videos. I can’t honestly say i’ve ever felt much enthusiasm around these events.

The very entity of an ‘organisation‘ is a fiction: organisations are groups of individuals collaborating with a culture that they co-create and co-own. It stands to reason that the most effective way to change this is through engagement at every level, and by empowering those individuals to be part of the change, both how it’s shaped and how it’s enacted.

The first thing i would emulate is the approach of creating the Healthcare Radical community: training people to be subversive within a framework to empower them to enact change.

Brave and effective.

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The Social Leadership Handbook: launching today!

Forgive me for writing a post that’s neither reflective nor necessarily relevant to anyone else, but today sees the publication of “The Social Leadership Handbook” and it’s a proud day. The culmination of over a year’s writing, this is my first ‘proper‘ hardback book (‘proper‘ meaning it feels more real than a digital one. I still hang onto the old ways apparently…).

The Social Leadership Handbook Introduction Page

I spend my time charting the evolution of the Social Age: a time when change is constant, facilitated by technology and survived in communities. The nature of work is changing and organisations or individuals have to be agile to survive and thrive. My work takes me from the ways we learn (both social and mobile learning) through to culture (how it’s formed and adapts to change) and even into creativity and innovation (the ways we co-create meaning and discover agility). In each of these areas i’m developing frameworks and writing and trying to tie it all together, to give a holistic approach to development.

I love maps: the simple ways we try to make sense of the world around us. Whilst today maps are derived from satellite data and computers, in the old days it was a matter of sketches and walking boots, tramping up hills, down dales and squinting through theodolites on rainy days.

We are explorers, pioneers of the Social Age. The technology is taking us into new spaces, new ways of relating to each other, new ways of ‘sense making‘, new ways of working and playing. Everything is changing and it’s down to us to draw the map, not from on high but as we tramp through the mud.

Social Leadership Syllabus

The curriculum for Social Leadership has emerged from the iterations through the social spaces. It wasn’t the starting point: it’s the output

The Social Leadership Handbook is really my first attempt to capture one element of this: the type of leadership we need that is fit for the times.

Social Leadership is about curation, storytelling and sharing, it’s about reputation forged within communities and the authority that this brings. It’s about co-creation of meaning, about building social capital and, ultimately, collaborating widely and wisely. Social Leaders are more effective because they has both formal and social authority.

It’s about equality and humility: preventing anyone being disenfranchised through circumstance or belief, about being fair, about being effective.

Behind the book is a full curriculum for development: i didn’t just want to spectate, but to create a framework for learning, exploring the nine skills of the Social Leader and the ways we can develop and hone them (and, in the Social Age, do this through a combination of social learning approaches, community work and performance support).

This is my first pillar in being fit for the Social Age.

The Social Leadership Handbook is available in Hardback copy from here.

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Culture, Motorbikes and Agility: Fit for the Social Age

Culture CafeI like Nathan: he’s making his own path. A motorbike custom body shop and artisan cafe. A workshop combined with a social space. Sandwiches and carburettors. He’s got vision and the energy to realise it: create the space, challenge assumptions, build reputation and the rest will follow. Career? It’s what he makes himself. It’s the way of the Social Age: question everything, remain agile.

We needed somewhere to rehearse today for a conference, so headed out to Culture to borrow a space in the cafe: co-working (or loitering as it used to be known).

Culture Cafe 2I love working in different spaces, sharing the energy, feeling inspired, sharing ideas. I asked Nathan has challenged the norms in his market: he’s still on an industrial estate, but instead of steel roller shutters and plastic chairs, it’s espresso and old bus seats, T shirts and cold root beers. He operates full CAD software in his design, interacting directly with machine specialists elsewhere for production. Online, networked, new. The workshop is more like a studio than a garage.

It’s easy to see one man working alone in a small space and dismiss it as a hobby, but there’s so much we can learn: challenge assumptions, focus on the culture, build magnetism and reputation. These are lessons that many global businesses could learn. Question everything and remain agile.

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From Social to Formal: professional development in the Social Age

Social Leadership Syllabus

The curriculum for Social Leadership has emerged from the iterations through the social spaces. It wasn’t the starting point: it’s the output

Over a year after i started working on the Social Leadership Handbook, i’ve started to write the programme design. Ten years ago, i’d have started here, and my work would have been weaker for it. In the Social Age, it’s the sense we make within our communities that counts.

My first iteration of the Social Leadership model was just three segments: Narrative, Engagement and Technology. It was a sketch. I think I was sat in the Ysbreeker cafe in Amsterdam when i did it. Just an idea really, a play on some themes of ‘co-creation‘ and ‘community‘ that i’d been working on whilst writing about music over the months before.

As i shared these early ideas into the community, there was a strong response. That response encouraged me to write more, and the bare bones of the framework came together: nine skills, based around the outer edge of the circle.

I wrote nine articles, one on each skill (as well as some others that fell by the wayside). At every step i shared everything: some things stuck, others morphed, some quietly faded away. Each iteration firmed up the structure in my head, but there was still no central plan: it was more a case of emergent ‘sense’ from a community of engaged and like minded colleagues.

Iterating the Handbook

This is very much a pattern of developing ideas in the Social Age: we start in our communities and work through to the formal space from there, after we’ve built a cohort of support around it. It’s a very different method of working and a very different way of thinking.

We have to be prepared to share, to learn and to fail.

The ways we learn are changing: it’s no longer a case of one syllabus and one path through it, but rather it’s about spaces where we come together and pick a way forward, challenged and supported with communities and resources at each step.

The syllabus i’m building for Social Leadership won’t be static either, although inevitably it will become more formal as it touches ‘real life‘. But it it, now, founded upon the initial ideas that have crystallised into the Handbook. What started out as a sketch and an idea is becoming tangible: the trick is to keep it agile, because in the Social Age, agility is key.

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The Social Leadership Handbook has landed!

The Social Leadership HandbookOur UK office is on the third floor, a choice i regret when carrying a thousand books up the back stairs. Today, the Social Leadership Handbook has arrived from the printers in Latvia. Latvia? Yes, via a production editor in Southampton, a printing company in Chelmsford and writing that took place in a hundred cafes and trains around the world. Welcome to the Social Age, where formal mechanisms of publishing and control are subverted by agile entities collaborating fast.

The Social Leadership Handbook has landed, almost a year after i started writing it on a retreat in Cornwall.

As with any book in the Social Age, it’s almost out of date before the ink is dry, but what it represents is a foundation, a collection of everything i’ve written around the subject so far, crystallised into a structure and syllabus. It’s coherent in a way that disparate blog posts and Slideshare decks can never be. It’s one more step on our journey to understand the new realities of the Social Age.

And i’m proud.

Standing there, with a pallet full of boxes, surrounded by friends and cracking open the cider on a sunny afternoon, it feels like a milestone. It’s not the whole journey, but it’s an important step.

We launch it next week at Learning Live in London, then a series of events around the world, but i’m taking today to savour the moment, to thank those people in our community who have made it happen, whose challenges, inspiration and support have led me down this road.

The Social Leadership Handbook will be available to buy from 10th September, but you can pre-order a copy here.

The SeaSalt Team

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